Physician Assistants


Exploring this Job

If you are interested in exploring the profession, talk with school guidance counselors, practicing PAs, PA students, and various health care employees at local hospitals and clinics. You can also obtain information by contacting one of the organizations to which PAs belong. Working as a volunteer in a hospital, clinic, or nursing home is a good way to get exposure to the health care profession. In addition, while in college, you may be able to obtain summer jobs as a hospital orderly, nurse assistant, or medical clerk. Such jobs can help you assess your interest in and suitability for work as a PA before you apply to a PA program.

The Job

Physician assistants help physicians provide medical care to patients. PAs may be assigned a variety of tasks; they may take medical histories of patients, do complete routine physical examinations, order laboratory tests, draw blood samples, give injections, decide on diagnoses, choose treatments, and assist in surgery. Although the duties of PAs vary by state, they always work under the supervision and direction of a licensed physician. The extent of the PA's duties depends on the specific laws of the state and the practices of the supervising physician, as well as the experience and abilities of the PA. PAs work in a variety of health care settings, including hospitals, clinics, physician's offices, and federal, state, and local agencies.

Many PAs specialize in areas of general medicine, including family medicine, internal medicine, general pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology. About 27 percent of PAs are in general surgery/surgical subspecialties, others specialize in emergency medicine or are in internal medicine subspecialties.

All states allow PAs to prescribe medicine to patients; however, those who prescribe controlled medications must have a DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) number. Physician assistants may be known by other occupational titles such as child health associates, MEDEX, physician associates, anesthesiologist's assistants, or surgeon's assistants.

PAs are skilled professionals who assume a great deal of responsibility in their work. By handling various medical tasks for their physician employers, PAs allow physicians more time to diagnose and treat more severely ill patients.

Nearly 21 percent of all PAs specialize in primary care, including family medicine, internal medicine, general pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology, according to the 2019 AAPA Salary Survey. More than 27 percent are in general surgery/surgical subspecialties, 12.2 percent are in internal medicine subspecialties, and 9.4 percent specialize in emergency medicine.

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam allow PAs to prescribe medicine to patients.